Janette Bombardier ’80
Advocate for engineering
- By Thomas James Weaver
Departments / Alumni Profiles
Advocate for engineering
JANETTE BOMBARDIER '80 Chances are, a young person planning a career in civil engineering is thinking more in terms of roads and bridges than chips and wafers. So how did Janette Bombardier, who graduated from UVM in 1980 with a degree in civil engineering and went on to earn her master’s in the field four years later, find herself in the top executive’s seat at of one of the world’s largest producers of semiconductor technology?
“If I had ever thought when I graduated from UVM that this is what I’d be doing today… I didn’t even know this kind of job existed,” she laughs. “You know, when you’re twenty-two years old, you haven’t seen what there is to do yet. But an engineering background is such a solid background for so many other types of work that it really enables you to go in a lot of directions.”
She applied for a position at IBM right out of UVM, she says, “even though I didn’t really think IBM would hire a civil engineering grad. But at the time they were going through a significant expansion of the site, and they had a lot of traffic issues. I had construction and traffic engineering experience, a strong academic record, and so I was a match for their needs at that time. That’s why I got in the door.”
Initially, she was called on to use her civil engineering background on projects like roadway construction, traffic management, and Act 250 permitting, and she was the engineer for the bridge that spans the Winooski River—still the only bridge that exists in IBM’s expansive worldwide facilities infrastructure.
That civil engineering background, in fact, turned out to be an excellent match for the kinds of skills needed to run a major plant like IBM Burlington. Today, as director of site operations and senior location executive, Bombardier is in effect running a small city—a 3.5 million-square-foot facility housing semiconductor manufacturing and test operations as well as labs, data centers, and office space, among other operations. On top of that, she has the primary responsibility within IBM for relationships with government agencies and political leaders in the State of Vermont, where IBM is critical to the economic well-being of an entire regional economy.
As a woman in a leadership role in a traditionally male-dominated profession, Bombardier has been a tireless booster of programs designed to get young people—particularly young women—interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the critical middle- school years. “Women are going into the sciences, especially the life sciences, at a very high rate,” she says, “but not in engineering.” IBM hosts an annual summer camp for young women to boost their interest in technical careers, and Bombardier is a frequent speaker at career events in Vermont middle schools. “I try to influence them as a role model and show them there are really cool things to do as an engineer that they might be interested in.” It’s not just women who will meet the needs of the technical workforce, however. “We need a lot of engineers,” she says, “and we try to encourage everyone to look at STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. We think it’s a national issue.”
Her advice to young people? “Try to understand what engineering jobs are all about and how much fun they can be. I think all of us got into it because we like to solve problems and solve puzzles. That’s what an engineering job is.”
While Bombardier helps to build a tech savvy workforce for the future, many in Vermont wonder how secure are those thousands of IBM jobs that have become so much a part of the Vermont economy and quality of life? Does the corporation still have a bright future in Vermont? “The team here works hard every day to come up with new technologies and new products to ensure we will have a successful future,” she says. “There are plenty of people who twenty years ago said we weren’t going to exist ten years ago, and ten years ago that we wouldn’t exist today. But we’re a very innovative community of people. IBMers locally generate around six hundred patents a year, which is enormous. We’re very innovative at taking the technologies we have, extending them and creating new applications for them, as well as developing new technologies, and doing it in a facility that’s been here over fifty years.”